Amid fevered media speculation about what it portends for the future of the 77 million worldwide Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has encouraged bishops on retreat in preparation for the full proceedings of the Lambeth Conference next week to look for common ground.
He spoke to the gathering of Anglican leaders from around the world for the first time on Wednesday, addressing the opening plenary session of the ten yearly gathering - which has no legislative power within Anglicanism, but still sets the tone for the life of the Communion.
Dr Williams sees the event as an opportunity to find commonality in the midst of difference. Others are asking whether it will be a further step in the eventual break-up of the historic church.
Dr Willams stressed that the Conference has a very strong emphasis on drawing church leaders together round the Bible and had been designed as a place "in which every voice can be heard and in which we build Christian relationship".
He said that his own prayer and hope for the Conference "is not that after two weeks we will find a solution to all our problems but we shall as I have written more than once in some sense find the trust in God and one another that will give us the energy to change in the way God wants us to change. That is the most important thing we can pray for, the energy to change as God wants us to change individually and as a Communion."
Some Bishops have chosen to stay away although only one Province (Uganda) has no Bishops present. Dr Williams acknowledged this fact.
He declared: "I think it's important I should say that it's a great grief that many of our brothers and sisters in the Communion have not felt able to be with us for these weeks, a grief because we need their voice and they need ours in learning Christ together."
Dr Williams said that as he had written to many people in recent months "I respect and accept the decisions that have been made but together we need in prayer to acknowledge the wound that that makes in our fellowship" and " that we still have to mend relations that have been hurt. I hope that in these weeks we shall daily be remembering those who are not with us upholding them in our prayers, in our respect and love."
He continued: "I don't imagine that simply building relationships solves our problems but the nature of our calling as Christians is such that we dare not, and I say very strongly, dare not pretend that we can meet and discuss without attention to this quality of relation with each other even if we disagree or find ourselves going in different directions. The Lord of the Church commands that we must love one another in the process and there is no alternative to that. I trust that you are here in that confidence, in that willingness to love one another."
The Archbishop added that this sounded "so simple" but it had to be said "because we know as we meet that we are also a wounded body." He added there were no magic words to heal those wounds "but as we seek to meet Jesus Christ in each other we hope that the wounds that are still open will in some sense also be open to receive the work of God the Holy Spirit in our work."
Dr Williams concluded his address by encouraging the bishops who are now in retreat until Sunday morning "to be there and let God come to you".
The new book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.